Teacher to Community
by Teacher2Teacher Team | 01.14.16
Justin Birckbichler teaches elementary school in Front Royal, VA.
Mari Venturino is a middle school science and AVID teacher in San Diego, CA.
FlyHighFri is a campaign to share positive success stories in education (and beyond!) on Twitter and in person.
Mari: Justin and I connected on Twitter last spring. [Around that same time], I had kids in my room every morning before school and at lunch, and [felt] I needed a day set aside for an “adult club.” I [also] realized how much negativity there is in education in general and [wanted] to celebrate positivity in our classroom. I brought it up with Justin; he came up with the name [FlyHighFri] and we created the hashtag, graphics and started inviting people to participate.
Justin: I really just named the whole thing; Mari had the idea from the start. We piloted it in our schools and [then] we decided, let’s make it a wider movement and bring it into the Twitter world, and keep it light and positive.
We send out reminders on Thursday evening, reminding people from midnight on Friday to the end of the day on Friday, to share or tag the hashtag. We also post on FlyHighFri.com—it’s a Google form [where] people can share moments and we run it as a blog post on Fridays.
The way I do [my in-school FlyHighFri] is, before school, whoever wants to come comes and we meet in an empty classroom and talk about what is going great for the week. There are two different ways [to do it]: one is completely open sharing, and the other is targeted sharing—how we’ve seen students being compassionate this week, how far we’ve seen our kids grow in nine weeks—which does keep us on task a little bit more.
Mari: I think it’s so easy to vent about kids…”Did you hear what this kid did?” I find myself falling into that trap, too, needing to just get it all out. It feels better for a second, but it’s a bandage for the problem, not a solution. Focusing on positivity helps replace those negative thoughts.
There are really good teachers who are negative a lot, but you can’t go up to them and say, “You’re being an energy drain.” If I’m not comfortable talking to people about negative, I [can be] comfortable talking to them about being positive.
Justin: Unless you’re connected on Twitter, you don’t hear about the great things going on [in education]. You hear about ineffective teachers, test scores, how you don’t make money. But you don’t hear too much about the great things. Sometimes it’s hard to focus the conversation on the positive. It’s been so indoctrinated that it’s like bragging to share the positives, and we’re programmed not to sometimes. So we felt that [positivity] needs to be highlighted more.
Mari: People need time to decompress at lunchtime—on Fridays especially, [it’s the] end of the week and everyone’s stressed. [We’re working on] getting teachers to come and realize, this is not just another thing you have to go to. It’s good for you and good for your brain. Yes, we do need to vent, but we also need to spend focused time on positivity, too, and being intentional. Different people do different things to be intentional—yoga, meditation, prayer, different mindfulness strategies. This is another strategy we’re trying to build up to give people an outlet to be positive.
Justin: My motto is, “We don’t make excuses, we make changes.” I’m not going to complain about what’s going wrong; I’m going to celebrate what’s going right and funnel energy into what’s going well. It’s not just [relevant in] education—different industries could benefit from FlyHighFri. So much in the world is so negative that we all could benefit.
Everyone is a teacher in some way, shape or form—they help the next generation do better. If we have an area where people of all industries can share their personal or professional best from that week, my hope would be they develop connections. [For example,] if a teacher connects to a scientist, that scientist could come into the classroom and vice-versa. [It could] spill into more connections throughout all industries, [and] everyone would be helping and going for the greater good of preparing students for the next generation.
Mari: I’d love to see role models getting involved. Big names who people look up to. Wouldn’t it be cool if an astronaut on the International Space Station shared their FlyHighFri?
Justin: I read every single tweet [on the #FlyHighFri hashtag]. I wouldn’t trade it for the world—I learn so much about [teachers] and what’s important to them. It really keeps me going on Friday. I like seeing what other teachers are doing and how they’re celebrating.
Justin and Mari’s Tips for Making Positive Connections with Other Teachers and the Community:
Justin: Start small and build the focus and the connections. Mari [didn’t] have the negativity problems as much as I did. But she was selective in who she invited at the beginning, whereas I opened it to the whole staff. If you go too big, too fast, it all will fall apart.
Mari: Share on social media. Use the hashtag #FlyHighFri to connect. See what others are saying and reply to them. Start a group—it’s not hard. Just find one other person and set a weekly meeting time—before school, at lunch or after school. We do it at lunch because our whole school is on the same lunch. Find a common time you can get together.